Stories on Canadian mining in Guatemala

At around 6 p.m. on April 27, 2013, about 20 protesters left their encampment and began marching toward the entrance of the Escobal mine. They were close by around 7 p.m., just as the sky was starting to get dark.

Artemio Castillo Herrera says he was the first to get hit.

“They didn’t say anything to us, they just open-fired on us,” said the 50-year-old farmer from San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. “People started running in all directions and they started chasing us on foot and shooting at us.”

Herrera took two 9mm bullets in his leg, and 12 shotgun pellets in his back. He didn’t fall; he just remembers running and thinking: ‘this is it, I’m dead.’

Several men were shot that day by the private security personnel contracted to protect the Escobal mining project, which is owned by U.S.- and Canada-based mining company Tahoe Resources through its Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael.

In a public statement at the time, the company’s CEO Kevin MacArthur stated that the protesters were armed with machetes, and that the security force responded to what became a hostile situation with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“Our investigation has shown that only non-lethal measures were taken by our security,” he said in a release issued by Tahoe.

Herrera disagrees.

He describes by memory the injuries suffered by himself and the six other men who have filed a lawsuit with the B.C. Supreme Court against Tahoe Resources: Luis Fernando Garcia Monroy took a bullet through his mouth that shattered his jaw, he says. Adolfo Augustin Garcia was shot in the back as he ran away, and Wilmer Francisco Perez Martinez in the back and near his neck.

Herrera’s son, Erick, was shot in the leg. And he says the bullet the doctors extracted was real, not rubber.


Canada is home to some of the world’s biggest gold, silver and metal companies who extract at home and abroad. While the processes may be the same, the contexts in which they take place – the politics and culture of mining – are a world apart when comparing Canada to a country like Guatemala. 

It’s a controversial industry, regardless whether it’s highly regulated or not. Education and emotion, especially with little of the former and too much of the latter, causes disruption to local communities, way of life, and business. Confusion, challenged communication and controversy happen on both sides. There’s conflict, but there are also successes. Each person you talk to will paint a starkly different picture of what mining in Central America looks like. And trying to figure out how these fit into a larger theme is like being handed a Pollock, Rembrandt and some Warhol pop art and told to make a neatly curated collection.

This January, I spent two weeks in Central America looking at how Canadian-owned companies operate in the region. The introduction above leads into the second link below. ‘Goldcorp’s Marlin mine’ was published as the cover story in Business in Vancouver‘s quarterly mining report this week.

They’re two of many stories – big, small and anecdotal – that came out of the trip. And if they all tie into a single theme, it’s that everything about mining in Guatemala is complicated.

Read: Goldcorp’s Marlin mine: a decade of operations and controversy in Guatemala

Read: Controversy over pros and cons of Escobal silver mine divides rural Guatemalan region


Ventures into freelance

It’s been a year that continues to see firsts, and today it was having my first freelanced story published.

From the story pitch, to the research and interviews, to the writing and editing (and taking the latter two and repeating them a dozen times over) – I carried this baby start to finish, and am proud to see it in Business in Vancouver this week.

In May, Kwantlen Polytechnic University announced that the owner and chairman of Boston Pizza International would assume the role of chancellor this fall.

I got to speak with George Melville twice, and on both occasions I had the opportunity to gain a little more insight into what he thinks about community, education and business.

Check out George Melville: Making the grade  – the product of my first few steps in freelance journalism.


A detour out of town

If grey were an emotion, it would probably be dread.

And everything in the vicinity was grey.

The mist, the air, the sense of numbness that gripped shivering limbs and clouded weary minds.

The fog was a smoke that lingered around the corners of the 28 buildings. They lined the rough and sandy pavement like numbered tombstones; two stories each and crumbling after six decades of remembrance. Today they see many visitors, but no one ever brings flowers.

The trees just outside of the barbed wire fences were spidery patterns, drawn with burnt charcoal on a blank slate of a sky. While everything in sight looked bleak, worn and used, no amount of time would be able to wash away the grey that permeated the decaying walls, the shattered windows, the creaking slats between the wooden barrack roofs.

The red bricks were dull and the grass was frosted. It was as though colour was an afterthought, a desperate attempt to breathe some life into the unforgiving scenery normally known through black and white photographs.

The clouds huddled together against the biting bitter wind, refraining from crying on the cold, hard ground.


Just an hour on a bus from the already faded pastel facades of Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square. Even after suffering through two world wars, the architecture in Poland’s second largest city is virtually untouched.

But when the Nazis came, the country could not, and did not, put up a fight. It wasn’t long until the bricks from the buildings on the city’s outskirts were taken out of the homes of Jewish residents, and put into new infrastructure for the same people.

Over a million Jews, Poles, Soviets, and Roma people were exterminated at one of the very few camps specifically designed to be a final destination: The entire population of Manchester exterminated, twice over.

Today, the Birkenau camp remains as a field of ever-increasing ruin and rubble. Two black strokes, heading toward death in parallel, enter and stop abruptly, literally at the end of the line. After decades of time and weather taking their toll, what surrounds the rails now is what is left of the nearest barracks: A single brick furnace per unit, attached to nothing but the ground that bears it.

Off in the distance is a group of two-dozen Israeli-Jewish travelers, chanting in Hebrew around a modern art monument. A smooth black sculpture void of any detail, it represents the final moments of life in the barren gas chambers. Jagged pale grey stones no bigger than two-pound coins cover its surfaces, traditional Jewish tokens of respect. They are placed haphazardly, as if dropped by birds flying over the desolate camps.

There were no birds, though. The swallows and martins singing elsewhere were nowhere to be seen. The trees were barren, and the wind blew forcefully as if trying to command attention without emitting a single moan. The lack of natural sound engulfed the site in a quiet sense of hesitation.

As the songs from the young men and women clad in black rang out mournfully to no one in particular, there were only two other sounds that could be heard.

The first, the thudding of heavy feet on gravel, mixed with sand, packed from being well-tread. The second, the Polish woman whispering nightmares into the ears of tourists and visitors.

“To survive in Hitler’s Germany…”

Her words speak truths, listing facts and figures as though she was reading an aftermath report of the damage done: Cold, emotionless, clinical.

It is the shoes – the hundreds of thousands of shoes – that visualized the impact of her account. There are babies’ shoes that, at one time, were most likely white, dainty, and worn by a girl who could not yet walk; there are formal women’s shoes with leathery straps and a wooden heel an inch-and-a-half high; there are the shoes of men who could do nothing to protect their families. Once worn by unsuspecting people, the shoes are now faded grey symbols of the Holocaust’s atrocities, preserved behind glass in one of the camp’s exhibitions.

Just outside, behind the thick brick walls that are too high to scale even with a helping hand, bodiless voices float up and over the spiked black wires that crown the fences. There’s chatter, and there’s laughter, as packs of tourists with cameras and grumbling bellies board buses with navy blue padded seats back to Rynek Glowny, and away from Auschwitz.

People came to remember, so that they could try to forget.


Profits and paywalls

Last semester, one of our journalism instructors asked us to first make a list of all of the magazines, newspapers, online publications and other sources of journalism that we were paying for. It was then followed up with a secondary list of which publications we would pay for.

My first list was empty, and my second list – at the time – consisted of the Globe and Mail, and the New York Times. That’s it.

It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for the work that goes into writing good pieces of journalism, and it’s certainly not that I don’t care. But with Google quite literally at my fingertips everyday, most of the day, I struggled to define what it is I’d pay for in an age where information is free.

And that is the problem with paywalls.

We are living in a world that places more and more emphasis on education, and on the “right” to information. It’s not enough to wait until the 6 p.m. news to find out which stories we should be paying attention to: We need raw news, raw information, all the time, whenever we want.

This need to know has been accelerated by social media – namely Twitter – and reinforced by the work of Wikileaks and groups like Anonymous, which are exposing once private and confidential information for all the world to see.

An online newspaper site putting up a paywall affects the Internet like a giant boulder affects the flow of a river: Traffic flows around the restriction, with no harm done and no resistance. (Why would you pay to learn what you can learn for free?)

In order for paywalls to be an effective means for accruing revenue, there needs to be a shift in the way society distinguishes between information and journalism.

The digital music industry is a great example. There are two choices: Pay $1.29 on iTunes for a song, or download it for free from somewhere else. One option is illegal, the other is expensive. Regardless, I have only ever purchased my music through iTunes, and have never regretted it. My rational is that I don’t have any problem paying for what I enjoy, and what somebody else has created.

So how is this any different from journalism?

The issue, I think, is that I haven’t looked at journalism the way I have, for so long, looked at music. I treat journalism like information: Something beneficial that I need to know and have a right to know. In contrast, music is a “luxury:” Something I could live without if I had to, an added form of enjoyment that I am willing to pay to enjoy.

What distinguishes journalism from “information” is that journalism is information that has been – or should have been – digested, analyzed, organized and challenged.

And that takes work. Do we have a right to know what journalism uncovers? Yes. But it doesn’t just magically appear either. It needs funding from somewhere, preferably from people who support it, and recognize its value. Most importantly, people need to recognize that its “value” is created by the journalist: Great journalism isn’t just a word-for-word replica of something that happened. Rather, it’s an explanation, an analysis or a discovery of what has happened, what is happening now or what is to come in the future.


When I grow up

When asked what I want to be when I grow up, I instinctually reply with an impressive-sounding mouthful: When I grow up, I’d like to be a foreign correspondent, working in television, focusing on conflict zone journalism and war reporting.

The dream is a relatively new one, and how I plan on achieving it – and whether or not I follow through – are hazy details. But they are, nonetheless, details: Details compared with how I feel when I read and see and hear about what’s going on in the world, about human rights abuses and people getting shot to the ground over their right to stand and speak up.

It’s an anger that starts in the pit of my stomach, empties out my mind and mobilizes my feet so that in a matter of minutes, I’m storming around my house in an anxious rage. As time passes, the feeling eventually wears off. But I never forget, and to this day, am able to cite three queasy memories as my reasons for wanting to do what I want to do.

The first was back when I was in high school: I was at home and saw, for the first time, the photos of the 9/11 attacks. Specifically the ones where innocent American civilians were jumping from the second tower.

The second instance was a video of a woman, covered completely head-to-toe, getting stoned to death.

And most recently, I clicked a photo on Twitter before reading the caption. Turns out, to my horror, it had been captioned something like “what a suicide bomber looks like after detonation.”

More detail would be unnecessary. I also think it’s pretty clear how much impact these images can have on someone, psychologically, emotionally, even physically, for those with a weaker stomach than I.

There are dozens of reasons why I’m drawn to conflict zone reporting, and there are hundreds of reasons why I shouldn’t pursue it in any way other than occasionally clicking on the odd photo. But the truth is, I only need three: Three reasons that can’t be unseen, unthought, or unfelt. And once you’ve felt a certain way, it’s practically impossible to try to lead a life feeling any differently.


The future of television?

Another short post, because I’m back to school and still mentally digesting my morning statistics class. (Here’s a math equation for you: Statistics plus a 10 a.m. class, to the power of three weeks vacation with no classes or work, equals what?)

Yesterday I tweeted a New Yorker article about YouTube’s plans for cable-like niche channels, and I got to wondering whether the future of television lies in the hands of Google.

Of course, the question of TV’s direction is a little less simple than that. Cultural and generational tendencies will have, and have had, an impact on the original Tube.

To quote the article by John Seabrook, “‘The Cosby Show’ was the last TV series to command a mass following,” with over 30 per cent of all households with televisions tuning in to watch the 1985-86 season. In comparison: “Last year, ‘American Idol,’ the most popular show on TV today, pulled in fewer than nine per cent of all television viewers in the U.S.”

That’s less than a third, and just 25 years later: A trend is clear.

But here’s another potential factor, that places the future of broadcasting in the hands of 7-16 year olds.

A BBC article from yesterday cited the new annual Childwise monitoring survey that found that 61 per cent of kids and teens aged seven-16 have a phone with internet access.

The story stated that the “biggest trend in children’s use of gadgets, according to the report […] is the growth in internet use through mobile phones.”

In addition: “Children are now more likely to play with their mobiles than watch television.”

But how children are using their phones may have an even more influential sway on television’s future: Namely, is there a clear shift away from the consumption of TV content to social media and online content, or is TV content also being watched on the net?

Things to ponder, especially for someone wanting to go into television.

And now, back to statistics.